This weekend, I attended the Annual SCBWI Conference for Western Washington. And I know what you’re thinking: “But... But... You know everything Bryan! Why would you go to a conference if you weren’t on the faculty?”
Read on, friends. Read on.
First, however, let me say that most of my conference experience comes from my job as a youth pastor. These conferences usually feature terrible music being played by dudes that wear too much gel in their hair and are perpetually tan. They’re filled with right-wing types who, if they discovered my true theological/political feelings, would stone me. Or, at least, give me the evil eye. I spend most of those conferences with a cynical half-smile on my face, trying not to shout out: “I voted for Barack Obama!”
This conference was different. First, it was filled with writers. And, regardless of their political leanings, I love being around writers. There’s a lot of hope in that crowd, which is fairly ironic when compared with the Christian crowd - but whatever. A different post at another time, maybe.
My weekend started with meeting my agent, Michael Bourret. I won’t go into any details, because I’m half convinced he maintains a secret identity as some sort of super-powered hero, and I don't want to ruin his cover. I was already happy to have him as an agent, but actually getting to meet him was a different story. I like to meet people, it gives me a sense of who they are... what type of personality they have. And everything about MB was exactly what I hoped for.
Wait... did I just swoon? Jesus. Moving on.
The best part of this conference - hands down - was connecting with other writers. From the unpublished (my new friend J.C. Geiger) to the New York Times Bestseller (Jay Asher) to the “Holy Crap she makes me feel a bit uncomfortable, but I really like her...” (Suzanne Young) - that, to me, is the reason to go to these conferences. Meeting people who can inform your writing, who can share their stories with you.
I was lucky enough to also meet a couple of very interesting editors, painting a picture of the extremely passionate and committed men and women who help bring books to life. There insight was profound.
But let me stop here for a moment and suggest something:
Don’t be a moth.
Don’t rush to the editors and agents, thinking they’re some kind of supernatural force. (Save that for people like me, please.)
These are real people. They get tired. They get annoyed. And, yes, they may hold certain keys to all of our dreams - but they’re still just people. By far, the most often-asked question I got was: “How did you get Michael as an agent?” (Always said with reverence.) When I answered, “I sent him a query by e-mail.” There was disappointment.
Maybe they wanted to hear that I had an "in."
Or perhaps they didn’t want to hear that I worked on my book for years before I queried. I'm not sure, but the visible disappointment really surprised me. Of course, I did not mention that it took me 2 weeks to find my agent. (That's called self-preservation, suckas.)
My advice? Go and have fun. Meet the agents and editors. Talk with them. But don’t do it with the ulterior motive of, “I’m going to find out what he/she likes and then I’m going to use it against them in my query!”
Nobody likes this.
Instead, if you find yourself in an opportunity to speak with an editor, just do it. Bring up something they mentioned that you found interesting and just talk. I did it. And I ended up making a connection with an editor at HarperCollins that I really enjoyed. I admit, I was thinking, "Wow, this guy is pretty cool FANBOY ALERT, FANBOY ALERT..." But, at the end of the convention, I was just happy to have met a person who understood how much American Idol sucks.
One last thing... don't try to slip a manuscript under a bathroom stall door. That will result in one thing: another option for butt wiping.
Edited to Add:
1.) Mandy Hubbard: Fun. Writer. Agent.
2.) Greek Yogurt.
3.) Most of you have no idea what this means. I'm fine with that.